On 1st October 2020, Jungle safari season started with enthusiasm, hope and caution. For last 10 days, all my social media pages are filled with images of wildlife and forests. A season that would otherwise be celebrated with lot of fervor is now in stalemate. Covid has impacted tourism industry badly. I have not even planned anything for myself for next few months. So in this blog, we will talk about impact of Covid on Wildlife/Eco-Tourism and way forward.
The term ‘Eco-Tourism’ has been defined as responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people. It is a link between tourism and conservation and a form of nature-based tourism on the principles of sustainability with a strong emphasis on community participation. Eco-Tourism not only builds entrepreneurial skills at a local level but also links community members to the larger world in ways that create knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of other people and nature itself.
Let us talk about what is happening to industry in general. According to The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), tourism generated $194 bn or 6.8% of India’s GDP in 2019 and supported 39.80 Mn jobs which is 8 % of its total employment. The sector is predicted to grow at an annual rate of 6.9% to $460 bn by 2028 which is 9.9% of GDP.** This was all before Covid hit industry. Now the industry is in doldrums. When it all started, the movement of tourists was stalled. This was followed by calling off all permits granted for jungle safari. This in turn resulted in joblessness for locals involved in eco-tourism. The entire eco-system is suffering. Many start ups went for toss when jungles were closed in peak season. Many individual/corporates who took risk of venturing into eco tourism recently are now completely stuck. To understand what lies ahead let us look at both demand side and supply side. Let us start with supply side.
Many business have already lost huge percent of room nights in last season. To top that, operational costs have increased due to additional investment in hygiene and sanitization protocols. Running resort is capital intensive business and is usually funded by banks/investors. Recovering these costs will now take longer. Since banks have given loan deferment, it will put load on financial system of country. The business which was running on credit cycle of anywhere from 7 days to 30 days for working cash will now be pushed further. This means the entire credit cycle with supply chain has been disturbed and resort owners/business have to tackle situation at microscopic level. Businesses are taking all recommended measure and doing whatever best they can. Resorts are checking temperature and oxygen saturation of all guests to ensure safety for everyone. Rooms are properly sanitized and employees take due care. Now the only hope is guests start arriving.
Most of villages around parks have no case of Covid. So as a urban dweller, it is safe place to go. Under such circumstances, forest department is ensuring safety for all locals and tourists by marking up proper sanitization for safari vehicles, common areas and temperature check for forest employees, guides, rivers and guests. Local NGO are working hand in hand with government and ensure no villager goes hungry due to lack of tourism. Forest department is ensuring that villagers don’t tend to unethical means to provide for protection of their families. The entire supply side is ready to welcome the guests.
Let us now look at demand side. Due to the varying intensity of impact of Covid, the quarantine norms and rules are unique to every city/tehsil/gram panchayat. In such situation of uncertainty guests are not willing to book stays/permits/resort stays. Few risk taking and restless souls are travelling by whatever means possible with much risk, which majority are not yet comfortable with. The risk is not just coming in contact with Covid patient but also become an transmitter in rural areas around forest. Also in certain parks the rules do not allow guests below and above certain age, so there is somethings policy makers have to look into if they really want to kick start the industry. It is only matter of time when forest lover become impatient and start visiting park. Eco-tourism will pick up slowly and grow. For now self restrain is only solution to these dire times.
I am very eager to visit forests and de-stress from this Covid environment. It is been long sitting at home and working from home. No photography, no tigers, no cool breeze, no skin tan, nothing. No matter how badly I want to go, I am hesitant only because as responsible citizen I need to ensure that I don’t go out and contribute in increasing count of the patients. Resorts/Flights/Train everything and everyone is ready for you. If you have to go, make sure you follow all precautions. Remember, Tourism is business/source of income/living for them, but for you, leisure could turn out to be a life and death situation!